Friday, March 23, 2012

foray into the forest

I knew last week was going to be great when it started off with a surprise package from my childhood friend Jenny. In it were the kinds of things only an old friend can give you, like this candy bracelet:
Jenny and I had many a summer excursion wherein we walked from her dad's lakeside cabin to a nearby campground store that sold coveted candy jewelry such as necklaces, huge jeweled rings, and cigarettes. These were carefree times. Days were endless. I loved junk food, and lots of it. It was not unusual for me to lovingly eye Dolly Madison Raspberry Zingers and beg till my parents bought me one, its artificial red color and coconut dusting calling to me from atop its Twinkie-like core.  I was far from fit in those days.  This package embodied everything fun and right in the world, when one's highest priority was play.

Running is my play these days.  My week continued on in normal fashion.  I spent lots of time at the office, dreaming about getting away.   
Where I'm held captive on weekdays
I was so excited for my trip to the Pacific Northwest that I packed several days early. Thursday couldn't get here fast enough. That was the day I would drive more than two hours south to catch my flight to Bellingham at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.  When I got there, it was in the mid-80's.  Palm fronds and cacti lined the outdoor walkway between the terminal and gate under a clear, blue sky.
Southern Arizona calm
My coach had encouraged me to "eat eat eat eat eat" as much as possible in the days leading up to the race, so I found myself once again delving into processed food packages before and during my Allegiant Air flight, to get those calories in however I could, since I had been pressed for time.  Airborne in the evening sky, bands of color sorted themselves out as we jetted away from the Southwest, carbs pumping into my body. 

Wonderful Kerri Love greeted me at the airport in Bellingham.  Originally a Flagstaff friend, she moved home to Washington a few years back and now lives close to one of the best trail races in the country, Chuckanut. Kerri hosted me before this race last year and has the perfect guest loft.
Cozy nest Kerri created for me
On Friday I awoke to the scent of bacon wafting upstairs.  I came down to a homemade breakfast of sweet potato hash browns, scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee.  Yum!  It brightened the grey, wet morning.  Later I napped for over two hours; by afternoon the sun had come out.  Kerri took me to the Stimpson Family Nature Preserve for my shakeout run.  I was sooo happy to be back.  I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to be in those larger-than-life forests!  Afterward we went to Fairhaven, for packet pickup.

First major race in a new division
If you look closely, you'll see a "40" on my race bib!  This is still surprising to me.  Somehow I turned 40 in February...just like that, my 30s were gone.  I raced the week of my birthday, at the Moab Red Hot 55K, exactly a month before Chuckanut.  However, I had a disappointing race.  Last year, Moab had been my first ultra and incredible, whereas Chuckanut was my second and I took a wrong turn on the course.  I was hopeful that this year I would have a much better experience (at Chuckanut), especially since Moab hadn't gone so well.  I am relatively new at this, as these are still the only two ultras I have done.  I'm also not accustomed to logging higher miles in training and tend to need lots of recovery after bigger efforts, so there wasn't much of a chance to get longer runs in after Moab.

As race day dawned, my spirits were high and there was lots of excitement in the air about the serious depth of competition.  Saturday brought more rain.  It was very chilly.  A record number of participants made their way to the starting line in what would be an epic race!  Details of this are best summed up by irunfar

Regarding my own race: I like to go out fast, so my coach and I had talked about having me stay very relaxed early-on.  While it was hard to let so many women go by, this was the right decision.  I felt strong in later stages of the race and consequently had one of my best racing experiences ever.  Last year I had really struggled through much of this one, so having lots left this year was very gratifying.  When I came down to the Interurban Trail for the final push, the bay was a welcome sight (this course never disappoints in its beauty!).  Glancing at the tranquil water was a treat before digging in.  My splits in the final miles were nearly as fast as my beginning ones (we were on the exact same stretch) and I picked off many runners.  I loved how encouraging everybody (spectators, volunteers, and fellow racers alike) was all day long. 

It was a very fun day, had people to run with nearly the entire race (so rare!).  Amidst the 457 of us who finished, 173 were women.  I was the 9th female and first in the Masters Division.  My time was 4:59:41, three minutes slower than last year's time of 4:56:18, yet leagues ahead in enjoyment.  Unexpected snowfall only enhanced the stunning beauty of the course, which is one of the most striking I have ever seen.  There is nothing quite like running into the heart of a deep forest while challenging oneself physically.  Many times I just looked around in awe, yet never forgot I was racing.  I made up lots of time in that last 10K.  It was super-exciting to finally catch and then out kick a guy right at the end, too - Team Run Flagstaff track sessions sure pay off!  In just my fourth ultra (really just the same two races, twice), I am honored to have my name appear alongside runners as accomplished as these:

Women’s Results (courtesy of Bryon Powell and BuDu Racing, LLC)
  1. Ellie Greenwood (Montrail) – 4:09:28

  2. Jodee Adams-Moore – 4:33:47

  3. Joelle Vaught (Montrail) – 4:35:15

  4. Pam Smith (La Sportiva) – 4:37:59

  5. Melanie Bos – 4:44:03

  6. Stacey Cleveland – 4:45:38

  7. Hannah Ager – 4:46:45

  8. Jenny Capel (La Sportiva) – 4:57:03

  9. Sara Wagner – 4:59:41

  10. Nicholle Sellon – 5:05:23
The following pictures tell the story of how varied our course was:

Being chased by a rambunctious guy on Two Dollar Trail, about 10 miles in
(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)
At the start of Chuckanut Ridge Trail, around mile 13 
(photo by Michael Lebowitz, Long Run Picture Company)

Smiling can thaw frozen fingertips
(photo by Michael Lebowitz, Long Run Picture Company)

Negotiating Chinscraper
(photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

Finding balance 21 miles in
(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)
Chinscraper is just a little steep...
(photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)
Beginning the long-awaited descent
(photo courtesy of Michael Lebowitz)

Making up time on Cleator Road
(photo courtesy of Michael Lebowitz)

Running away from the snow
(photo courtesy of Michael Lebowitz)
Encountering a spectacular waterfall then Luke, Kerri, and their dogs on Fragrance Lake Road
(photo by Luke Hovee and Kerri Love)

Finishing kick, which enabled me to break five hours by less than 20 seconds!
(photo by Stephanie Bender, A Mere Glance Photography)

 Not about to give up my one second lead!
(photo by Kerri Love)

Sprinting toward the Patagonia fleece beanie and post-race party beer ticket every runner got upon crossing the line
(photo by Kerri Love)

My awesome hosts, Kerri and Luke

Luke's a little skeptical of this whole running thing

Post-race elation
(photo by Kerri Love)
Hmmm, this Masters Division could be fun! 
(prize not pictured: large bottle of Udo's Oil that I couldn't pack in my carry-on)

YES that is 250 big ones!  It pays to be just a little older than the other girls!
(THANK YOU Runner Girl Races, LLC, all sponsors, and amazing race directors Krissy Moehl and Ellen Parker!)

Sometimes you find a little luck in the woods on St. Patrick's Day
(photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

I really wasn't ready to go home.  The weekend went by SO fast!!  Still had lots to see and do...
Saying goodbye to fabulous Kerri

About to leave Washington
Northern Arizona had an epic weekend of its own.  I had to spend a night in Phoenix due to a blizzard that hit while I was away.  Thank you Pacific Northwest, for an exceptional weekend.     
Heading up to Flag
Home sweet home

Live the way you run. Run happy.

Live the way you run. Run happy.
Thanks to Kevin Riley at Action in Solitude for this Buffalo Park (Flagstaff, Arizona) photo